Durmitor; Riding the Balkan Beast

The road was rough, simply a dirt track, did Bosnia not want people to leave, or just enter? Night had already enveloped and the going was slow, dodging potholes and rocks is a tough game in daylight, let alone in total darkness. The Bosnian-Montenegrin border finally came into view, a bridge over water separated the two nations. Crossing at night there was no queue. I would stop in Pluzine, the start of the parcours for checkpoint four. I was tired, low on food and water, I did not have the energy.

Pluzine at 2am, only the young kids are still awake, life is dead. Shops are closed and a hotel does not exist. I eat my last snickers as I consider my options. If I stay and sleep here the shops wont open until 7, that’s too long too sleep. I have no options, Durmitor I am coming. You are the Balkan beast, but I will tame you.

The going is tough to start, the ramps are steep. The night is black and I cannot see the end. I keep climing, my garmin elevation says I’ve barely started. No choice but to go on. No food, I finish my water. Still much climbing. I stop, I need to rest, my eyes are blurring. The night is devoid of light, the stars shine brighter than I’ve ever seen. I must move again, I find energy from within. Climbing still. A small descent, a brake from the toil. But it’s short lived, and I am climbing again, I change gears, reaching for a easier gear that does not exit, but I shift anyway. I stop, I must rest again, progress is slow. Suddenly a light shines inside my head, I had packed two emergency gels, for I knew this would happen. I knew I would push myself beyond the line. I am rummaging through my bag, they’re here, I know they are. I am fumbling in the dark but I find both. Oh sweet sugar, I tear off the tops and down them like the first drink of the day. The sweet taste, I have the energy. I can go on.

I ease up the climb, I feel the sugar entering my veins, and my eyes begin to clear. I keep going. I am tired but I have some energy. I reach the top, an eternity later. Now I only must go down, it is easy, but Durmitor is not an Alpine climb, the roads are narrow and broken. My eyes are hazy from the tiredness, the early hours of the morning are when I always struggle. I must descent carefully, but fast for it is a race, I think I’m going to crash at every corner, I must make it down safe. Each tight corner only comes into view at the last moments, as my front light illuminated the way, brakes screeching, eyes watering, I fumble down.

A sign to Zabijak, I must be close. Dawn is there on the horizon, the fire is rising in the east. It’s going to be a good day. Down I go, I know I am near now. But no torment is over this simply, I hit a crater, bang hiss, a double puncture. It’s 4am, there is no light around. My hands are feeling numb, and my brain is tired. A double puncture seems like a mountain itself, I change inner tubes, get air back in my tyres and I roll on. I make it to the checkpoint.


See the ride on Strava